Dignity, expressed in calmness and respect, is a very encouraging thing to observe – especially when divergent viewpoints are inflaming unpleasant reactions in others. For instance, the ability to love when another hates. But instead of simply being awestruck at another’s ability to maintain a sense of dignity during difficult times – or being disappointed because we don’t see more dignity expressed in society – you and I can increase our own ability to conduct ourselves in a dignified manner. And the grace of God is here to aid us.
We are all challenged to refrain from losing our cool when faced with disagreements and unpleasant behavior on the part of others. But even if we manage to keep our words and actions under control while we get a grip on ourselves, something more reliable than our own willful efforts is required in order to bring more civility into society.
Christ Jesus’ teachings show everyone’s true identity and intrinsic worth as God’s spiritual reflection. We can all bow to the grace of God. And God will enable us to think, speak, and act in a manner that respects the true nature of ourselves and others.
A vivid example of the grace of God working in the human heart is that of Stephen, a Christian martyr who was stoned to death for his public declarations in defense of his Christian faith (see Acts 6:8–7:60). Even while he was being stoned, Stephen was able to acknowledge the inherent dignity of his murderers: He “kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”
While most of us will never be in anywhere near as challenging a situation as Stephen faced, his example points to the power of God’s grace to enable an individual to express and honor man’s spiritual identity and intrinsic worth even in the face of hatred and violence. But could one pure heart, like Stephen’s, make an impact on the heart of others – even on a hardened heart?
Consider Saul, relentless persecutor of the followers of Christ Jesus. Even though Saul continued with his persecutions after watching and consenting to Stephen’s stoning and death, I can’t help but feel that Stephen’s amazing display of inspired faith reached deep into Saul’s heart. And that it lit a light within him that increased until the presence of the Christ, God’s message of love for all of us, finally burst into full illumination. Saul’s character was transformed, and he spent the rest of his life spreading the Christian gospel as Paul, the Apostle.
Paul once said: “I am the least of the apostles … because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed on me was not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:9, 10).
God’s grace is bestowed on all of us. Our hearts cannot ignore it. But we need to heed Christ’s nudgings to honor the God-bestowed dignity and intrinsic worth of our fellow beings, even when their behavior totally dishonors it. And we have to do so for ourselves, as well, when we’ve fallen short in even small ways in our own thoughts, words, or deeds. In Ephesians we read, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (2:8, New King James Version).
The fountain of God’s grace can never be exhausted. It’s always here for us, giving us the ability to think and behave with the dignity that lets the love of God shine through us on others. And it can only be as sweet and healing as God’s infinite love. “This strong point in Christian Science is not to be overlooked, – that the same fountain cannot send forth both sweet waters and bitter,” writes Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 455).
Day by day God gives each one of us the ability to express our intrinsic dignity as His spiritual reflection. We can strive to halt the tendency to react negatively to others – mentally, or in any other way – and let God’s grace work in us. This is a powerful way to bring increased dignity and healing into our homes and society.
Adapted from an editorial in the Aug. 28, 2017, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.